Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood and Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return

Young people begin discovering things about themselves such as interests, hobbies, and dreams as they grow up. However, some forces more powerful than them may obstruct their freedom. These forces may mold and shape the youth in what they think is right for them even though they do not like it.  These forces take away their freedom. “Persepolis depicts Iran before, during, and after the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the rise of the autocratic Islamic state under Ayatollah Khomeini. The beginning of Persepolis I: The Story of a Childhood is narrated by eight-year-old Marji who is learning to navigate the new rules of the Islamic regime built upon the foundations of an Islamic republic and sharī‘ah law. As the narrative progresses Marji grows increasingly resistant to the regime—a resistance that is supported by her parents—until by the end of the first book she is an adolescent in the airport leaving for Austria. The second book, Persepolis II: The Story of a Return, picks up once Marji is in Austria and narrates her struggle to find her identity in exile. In a mirror image of Book I, Book II ends with Marji in the airport leaving her family to return to a final, self-imposed exile in Europe.

During the overthrow of Shah and the War between Iran and Iraq, the Iranians had to cope with its tyrannical and conservationist government. During that time, many people were not completely free, so they had to use small rebellions in order to experience some normalcy. Throughout the writing, Satrapi demonstrates how she becomes conscious of different ideologies, and norms. In this essay, I will analyze the importance of contextualization for youthful rebellion, normalcy, and the perversion of learned norms Marji must mediate.

Many things had been banned in Tehran for the fear that they would poison their religion. Marji had to hide most of the things that she liked but was considered “indecent” or “unladylike”. Marji is frustrated by the rules in Tehran so she starts acting out. Marji smokes a cigarette she had stolen from her uncle as a way of saying goodbye to childhood. This was her first act of rebellion. She says “as for me, I sealed my act of rebellion against my mother’s dictatorship by smoking the cigarette I’d stolen from my uncle two weeks earlier” (117). Later she goes to but a Kim Wilde tape while wearing her 1983 Nikes and denim jacket and a scarf (131). At that time the wearing the veil was such a big push and Marji’s attire was a major rebellious act. And while on her way back to her home, the “guardians of the revolution” stop her. She lies exponentially to evade detention (132).

Marji attempted to rebel against the institution by refusing to comply with the school’s strict rule of not wearing jewelry. She accidentally knocked thee principal down as she tried to remove the bracelet from her hand. This was the last stroke and Marji was instantly expelled from the school (143). It was not easy for her to find another school. “After I was expelled, it was a real struggle to find another school that would accept me. Hitting the principal was a veritable crime” (144).

However, she got into trouble as soon as she joined a new school. She stated that she did not approve of her teacher’s claim, “Since the Islamic Republic was founded, we no longer have political prisoners” (144). She argued on the case regarding Anoosh’s death and stated the increasing number of political prisoners under the new Iran regime and rebuked, “How dare you lie to us like that?” (144). Marji’s father was proud of her rebellious nature, but her mother was concerned by the way the government exercised laws, “You know that it’s against the law to kill a virgin… so a Guardian of the Revolution marries her… and takes her virginity before executing her” (145).

Fleeing Iran was definitely the biggest part of Marji’s journey of rebellion. She went to live in Austria and traveled to other parts of Europe. Europe offered opportunities to become a “liberated and emancipated woman” and whilst her engagement with political spheres such as anarchism and the work of Bakunin afforded her a niche within society it was through such freedoms that Marji’s identity becomes confused (177). The adolescent Marji’s naïve belief that sex and drugs aided her integration into a Western youth’s lifestyle are quickly derided. While there, she gets expelled from the Catholic nunnery for responding to a nun who insulted her education and heritage. She unapologetically said to the nun “It’s true what they say about you, too. You were all prostitutes before becoming nuns!” (177). She lastly remarked in regards to Christianity, “In every religion, you find the same extremists” (177).

Marji began living with Julie, her childhood friend after her dismissal from the Catholic nunnery. Julie was overly sexually active. It is through her that Marji learnt about “The Sexual Revolution” (188). Marji religion required abstinence. Due to Julie’s influence, Marji had her first sexual encounter with her boyfriend Enrique. “I had grown up in a country where the sex act was never consummated until after marriage… But this was different. I felt ready to lose my innocence. I didn’t want to be a timid virgin any longer” (212). After defying her religion, she realized the value of making personal decisions on one’s convictions and morals without the influence of others.

The next two years in Europe, Marji was battling with failed health, self-esteem issues and manipulation by people she loved and she lost her pride in her Iranian heritage. She lost had lost her childhood innocence. She felt betrayed by the ideologies, religion and leaders of Iranian heritage. When she hit rock bottom, she returns to Iran, where religious oppression is still ongoing. When she returned to Iran, her religious activities were centered on her views towards the influence of religion on the government and the veil. Marji accomplishments motivated her more than religion or faith did.

Marji manages to overcome her identity and self-image issues despite of all the challenges she faced.  She uses her personal voice to express herself in her social setting, making her individual persona more visible. Additionally, Marji’s political awareness further enlightens us to the type of person she is. Upon her return to Iran, and in spite of the danger, Marji remains outspoken condemning the patriarchal nature of Iranian society in which females are subjugated by law, whilst males remained free from such restraints as the veil or wide trousers (298). Even so, it is difficult to categorize Maji’s political convictions. Her opposition to the repression of women, for example, should not be misinterpreted as feminism. On the contrary, Marji has herself dismissed feminism as an ideal, suggesting that it propagates females as the superior race.

The disjuncture between the Iranian state and the educated population of women advocating for change in Iran was most obviously and recently played out in the attempted ratification of CEDAW by the Iranian parliament in the early part of the twenty-first century. Before and immediately after the 1979 revolution in Iran, discussions of human rights in the public sphere (which included women’s rights) were stigmatized for being pro-Western, pro-imperial, un-Islamic, and politically motivated (Mokhtari 470). In the late 1990s, human rights and women’s rights began to be a more popular topic of discussion as reformist Mohamad Khatami and other reformists and activists with political power re-framed rights discourse within the doctrines of Islam. Appealing to Islamic doctrine has also proven an effective and popular rhetorical tactic for women advocating for more rights within Muslim countries including Iran. In fact, many women define themselves as “Islamic feminists” with the idea that women can use the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house. Locating the discourse of rights including women’s rights within Shi’a jurisprudence in Iran meant that advocating for rights was no longer seen as contributing to a discourse promoting western intervention or neo-colonialism. This increased discussion has had the overall effect that now “‘human rights’ is no longer a stigmatized phrase policy-makers and intellectuals go to great lengths to avoid for fear of being labeled ‘Western’…In fact, the opposite is true; justifications of rights violations in the name of upholding Islamic principles are now more frequently the subject of suspicion, stigma, and critique” (Mokhtari 475).

One frame early in Persepolis I literally depicts Marji’s internal conflict between secularism, which is aligned in the frame with modernity, and religion, which is rapidly being co-opted by the regime. She is drawn as divided down the middle and the text says “I really didn’t know what to think about the veil. Deep down I was very religious but as a family, we were very modern and avant-garde” (6/1). The problematic juxtaposition between religion and modernity from Marji’s eight-year-old perspective resonates with the stereotypes that many Western readers assume, but in fact, the text goes on to radically complicate the binary as religion and secularism take on very different meanings under the oppressive regime within Iran, particularly for women.

Marji’s circumstances are relatable to all generations. We all truggle with the forces that try to define us against our will. Her story helps us undertand why we should not let misguided beliefs influence our the way we live our lives,.

Works Cited

Mokhtari, Shadi. “The Search for Human Rights With an Islamic Framework in Iran.” The Muslim World 94(October 2004): 469-479. Print.

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